Twenty years ago, Roger Goodell played a key role in resolving the Cleveland conundrum that arose when Browns owner Art Modell decided to move the team to Baltimore. In the end, Modell left the name and the records behind, Cleveland was guaranteed an expansion franchise in 1999, and the future Commissioner scored plenty of points on Park Avenue for working it all out.
Today, Goodell ultimately presides over a far more complicated situation in L.A., a market that became vacant the same year Modell decided to leave Ohio. For most of two decades, the place that the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season had provided the league with leverage in stadium negotiations, helping multiple teams get new buildings funded in part by taxpayer money with L.A. serving as the “or else.” In recent months, L.A. has become a necessity for teams that had hit a brick wall in this new era of public reluctance to subsidize ballparks for billionaires.
And so with the Rams intent on relocating to Inglewood, the Chargers and Raiders have thrown a joint hat into the ring with the concept of sharing a stadium in Carson. The mere fact that a pair of AFC West rivals would agree to an Oscar-and-Felix-style cohabitation shows just how desperate the situation has become. In the Bay Area, the Raiders had no interest in sharing space with a team they play once every four years. In Carson, two of the annual 16 regular-season games played there would pit the tenants against each other.
In their joint statement announcing plans to explore a stadium together in Carson, the Raiders and Chargers made clear their desire to respect the NFL’s relocation procedures. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has yet to make any such commitment. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. As the Raiders proved more than 30 years ago, the antitrust laws prevent the NFL from telling any of its owners where to do business.
Which sets the stage for chaos. If the NFL approves the Raiders-Chargers stadium venture, the Rams can still move to Inglewood. Alternatively, the Rams can relocate before the Raiders and Chargers secure permission from the league to leave their current homes.
The situation cries out for a negotiated solution, with Goodell intervening, getting the three owners together, and clunking heads together if necessary to work something out. And with all owners convening in Phoenix next month for the annual league meetings, that’s the perfect place to do it.
Ultimately, look for two teams to move to L.A. and one to go elsewhere, with perhaps St. Louis and San Antonio vying for the odd man out. Our best guess for now (and it’s truly just a guess) would be the Rams and Chargers sharing a stadium in L.A. (probably Inglewood) and the Raiders relocating to St. Louis or San Antonio.
Of course, it’s still theoretically possible that the Raiders will realize they should just move in with the 49ers. If the Raiders are willing to climb into the sack with their rivals from San Diego, sharing space with San Francisco shouldn’t be a problem. But that would introduce a fourth franchise into the negotiations, and the 49ers still may not want the Raiders in their stadium.
However it works out, the L.A. situation has gone from 20 years of simmer to full boil. It’s now up to a Commissioner who in many respects remains under siege to find a way to keep it from blowing up.